Live, Alive-O! Azzaam Hameed and Friends at Jazz on Jay

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Gathering at Jazz on Jay Thursday wasn’t just that warm buzz of being with people; it was the particular joy of being with MY people; both the jazz fans I’d see at every cool show before the plague and Schenectady in all its diverse and goofy glory.

Jazz on Jay crowds are as rainbow-y as at Music Haven. Jazz on Jay got up and running again Thursday with pianist-sometime-singer Azzaam Hameed and Friends, first of 15 free shows outdoors where Jay Street T’s onto State. While Music Haven remains on hiatus, the Central Park venue may present pop-up shows over the summer. Jazz on Jay features local and regional artists, much easier to book than Music Haven’s world music offerings.

In short, nobody needed a visa for fun Thursday. 

It was show up, smile up whether masked up or not, raise our voices and clap hands up; spirits, too.

It was, as Hameed’s quartet asserted halfway through its 80-minute set, a “Lovely Day” in the words and melody of the great and recently departed Bill Withers – guitarist Hayes Mills strong at the vocal mic.

Fans lined the storefronts and toted chairs into shady spots, grabbed lunch and drinks, happily greeted familiar faces and danced some as the band played under a tent, facing northward (toward Perreca’s) up Jay Street.

Celebrating the series’s youth movement Indiana Nash highlighted in Thursday’s Gazette, Hameed generously showcased young (high-school) talents: pianist Jordan Gamble and singer-pianist Paris Bouldin. Gamble etched a muscular groove in “Sunny” then a short vamp, neither developing quite enough; Bouldin sang “River” with good feel and force – both earning warm welcomes from band and audience.

Hameed and band played loose and easy, almost too laid back at first, then muscled up and swung to impressive effect in “Wade in the Water” half an hour in. 

Hameed crooned “Fly Me To the Moon” with easy warmth but guitarist Hayes Fields sang more often, drawing fans to clap and sing along in “Lovely Day.” Other soft-soul-pop hits swung breezy and sweet: the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round” and Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” cruising in light instrumental arrangements, a radioactive Michael Jackson pop hit wrapping up. 

This followed not long after the band hit its top altitude, and attitude, in Miles Davis’s “So What.” Bassist Al Brisbane and drummer George Spence took confident advantage of scarce solo opportunities. Fields and Hameed generally led throughout the show, but everybody gave this timeless, jaunty classic a fine and frisky ride. The beat was strong, the vamps and solos solid and cohesive.

Jazz on Jay continues next Thursday with drummer Quinton Cain’s quartet.

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